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Conceptually Speaking

Author: Julie Stern & Trevor Aleo

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This podcast is all about helping educators and students become better sensemakers and innovators. Each week, we interview experts to uncover the concepts and patterns that help us organize our world. We hope this podcast will inspire our listeners to design creative solutions to complex problems and accelerate innovation in today’s schools.
38 Episodes
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In this special reflection episode, Julie and Trevor share some of their favorite moments from Conceptually Speaking and discuss some exciting changes on the horizon. If you're new to the podcast, go back and check out some of the fantastic episodes we discussed. https://conceptuallyspeaking.buzzsprout.com/
This week on the show we are trying something new, Trevor and I are rotating co-hosting duties with our core team members from the Learning That Transfers team. This week features co-host Nichelle Pinkney, who is our social studies specialist and currently works as an instructional coach and curriculum specialist for a large school district in Texas. So this conversation was pretty special. We had two guests on to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion, but it was really to me about the Black experience, and I personally learned so much. I’m still thinking about the concept of “validation” of different people’s experiences, different people’s views of what is professionalism, what is success, even what is possible. What was your big takeaway from our chat?  What I loved is how they were so unapologetically black in a time when many fail to be. The idea that despite the historical oppression of blacks we have the opportunity to imagine new possibilities and unearth so many levels of potential through studying and celebrating black culture and ingenuity. I simply love the idea of imagining the type of reality, the type of community we can build, one that honors the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, one where all people are able to fully be who they truly are, one where people seldom use power to dominate or control other people’s lives. And this conversation was a great part of my personal journey in trying to help to bring that type of reality to life. We hope you enjoy. 
Today’s episode of Conceptually Speaking features Michael Weingarth, founder of Pillars of Learning neuropsychological tutoring. In addition to his work creating personalized tutoring and test preparation programs for students, Michael has what I can only describe as an encyclopedic knowledge of all things science of learning related. In the few conversations we had leading up to the podcast, and during the podcast itself, I constantly found myself scribbling notes, book titles, and names of researchers I had to dig into. Our conversation today attempts to peel back the layers on a lot of the reductive and problematic assumptions that often accompany notions of learning and intelligence. It’s a great example of just how complex learning truly is and how much damage we can do when we attempt to flatten and quantify that complexity with faulty tools and instruments. In fact, the heart of Michael's work is focused on synthesizing and coordinating siloed perspectives, approaches, and domains of research to develop a more well-rounded understanding of how people learn. This episode is dense with resources, follower recommendations, and cutting-edge research, so grab a writing utensil and get ready to dive in. We hope you enjoy it.https://pillarsoflearning.com/
This week’s episode of Conceptually Speaking features educational researcher and school leader Brad Kershner. This was a special episode for me, as a few weeks prior to recording, I’d purchased his book Understanding Educational Complexity, and was absolutely blown away by its depth and clarity. I was thrilled when he agreed to join us. There are few people in the field who can parallel Brad’s ability to tend to both the micro and macro of education with his level of discernment and nuance. His book, and our dialogue, range from cultivating individual meditative practices to analyzing the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of school communities, to conceptualizing the ways modernity’s values and frames shape how we view the process of education. It is a sobering reminder that everyone, not just students, will need to embrace a journey of lifelong learning if we’re to develop the cognitive and cultural tools for our complex times. Despite the complexity involved and the ways we have to go, Brad’s message is one of hope. We were only able to scratch the surface of the ideas explored in his book, so we encourage you to check it out for yourself. A link, as well as information on his weekly meditation sessions, are in the show notes. Enjoy!Understanding Educational Complexity Brad’s Patreon
This week on Conceptually Speaking, Julie and I chatted with Dr. Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, an assistant professor of secondary social studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies at West Virginia University. Before entering into higher education Dr. Mitchell Patterson spent a decade teaching students in DC and Virginia about history, social justice, and activism. Her passion and expertise for these concepts is evident throughout our conversation and our dialogue is filled with insight about how to handle difficult, but vital classroom conversations about identity, power, and justice. One of the many things that Julie and I admire about Dr. T-Mitch-P’s work is her commitment to encouraging students and educators alike to engage in meaningful, committed activism—regardless of the topic or context. For anyone looking for ways to instill passion in their students for social justice, this is episode is for you. We hope you enjoy the dialogue and learn as much as we did about how to engage learners in learning that leads to liberation.
Our guest this week is Dr. Paul Bloomberg, Co-founder of the Core Collaborative and author of Peer Power: Unite Learn, Prosper: Activate an Assessment Revolution. In this personal and impactful episode, Paul shares some of the struggles of managing an educational organization in the age of upheaval caused by COVID-19. Though the particularities of his journey over the last year are unique, we will all be able to relate to the impact this last year has had on our practice and perspective. Throughout the episode, Dr. Bloomberg exemplifies the humility, empathy, and willingness to adapt that is necessary for us to continue to make it through these strange times. Another interesting throughline in this episode is the tricky, even paradoxical process of tending to individuals, collectives, and systems when attempting to support professional learning. Though there is no easy answer, Paul provides some great insight into his knowledge gained thus far. Finding ways to support the individual needs of learners (and by learners I mean, as Dr. Bloomberg notes, everyone in education, while bringing about collective and structural change is a vital part of creating better educational systems. We hope you enjoy the episode and learn as much as we did!
 This week’s episode of Conceptually Speaking is a special one. It’s the kick-off of our Learning That Transfers Book Tour! To mark the occasion, Julie and I were joined by our two co-authors, Kayla Duncan and Krista Ferraro. The goal of this podcast is to share a little bit about the journey we started on together roughly a year ago to bring this book to life. It all seemed routine at the time, but considering this book was written by a group of people who had never all been in the same room, and in the middle of a global pandemic no less, we thought it’d be fun to revisit the process and share it with our audience. The episode is less of a commercial for the book and more of a “Behind the Scenes” look at what inspired its authorship and its ideas over the last year. Seeing as this book was created during the giant experiment that is COVID distance teaching, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a big part of our conversation focuses on the importance of creating curriculum and instruction that centered agility and flexibility just as much as clarity. As Krista notes, our biggest hope for this book is that the concepts, tools, and resources within empower teachers to make meaningful, informed choices that are suited to their learners and learning context. We hope you enjoy our dialogue and a peak behind the scenes for Learning That Transfers.  
This week’s episode of conceptually speaking features author, consultant, and EdWeek blogger and moderator, Peter DeWitt. Despite these honorifics, it won’t take long to realize they don’t matter much to him. In fact, Julie and I had to press him on how he’d like to be introduced. Funnily enough, I’d venture a guess that same humility and groundedness are what makes him such a phenomenal leader. Discussions about leadership often focus on externalities—routines, structures, meetings, professional development, the list goes on. What I loved about this episode though, was Peter’s focus on the interior life of a leader. Even in the best of times, being a principal is a challenge, but now more so than ever. It’s with that frame, Peter asks some compelling questions about the wellbeing of our leaders. The conversation Julie and I shared with Peter is equally personal and powerful. Regardless of your job description, it’s filled with great advice about how to maintain your wellbeing, but I’d imagine it’d be an especially impactful listen who are leaders. Enjoy!  
Our guest this week is Vince Bustamante, a social studies consultant and co-author of Great Teaching By Design and the Distance Learning Assessment Playbook. Vince is a member of our extended team and has been doing some great work with conceptual understanding and transfer in his hometown of Alberta, Canada. He’s also been busy writing two stellar books meant to help teachers implement Dr. John Hattie’s research in in-person and distance environments and he shares some great tips on important shifts we can make to adjust to our new COVID reality Vince’s experience as both a classroom teacher and consultant helped him realize that there’s a big gap between the afterglow of a great PD session and successful implementation of what teachers learn. It’s a gap he hopes to close by helping teachers focusing explicitly on students and their learning. Vince’s passion for assessment and implementation made him an equally informative and engaging guest. If ever there was a time for us to reflect on how we view assessment in our classroom it’s right now, so get ready for some insight and enjoy the episode!
Today’s episode of Conceptually Speaking features author, consultant, and eLearning innovator, Dr. Jennifer Chang Wathall. Dr. Wathall, or Jenny, as she requests we call her, brings a refreshing balance of disciplinary expertise and an eye for innovation. We cover a wide range of topics in our dialogue, from assessment to higher education to online teaching, but the connective tissue between each one is her desire to transform learning and pedagogy. Dr. Walthall advocates for designing authentic learning experiences that blend disciplinary expertise with interdisciplinary collaboration and finding ways to position students as producers and publishers of knowledge, instead of simply consumers. Shifts that are beautifully captured by the way she describes what’s missing in a lot of math instruction. Jenny’s work as a K12 consultant and professor at Hong-Kong University grants her a unique perspective on the wider trends shaping education at all age levels. This episode is full of practical ideas for classroom teachers and philosophical musings for the future of education. Basically, it’s perfect for our current watershed moment.
Today’s episode of Conceptually Speaking is a special one—Our first episode with an actual student! Though Hannah Testa is a student in Forsyth County, Georgia, that’s just one of many hats she wears. She is also a Founder of the non-profit Hannah4Change, an author, presenter, TEDx speaker, politico, and more besides.  She is one of a growing number of Generation Z activists whose compelling, earnest message demands attention. Her passion is raising awareness and mobilizing people and policy to protect wildlife and the environment and it’ll be immediately apparent that she has the knowledge and skills to do both. Over the course of our conversation, she’ll share her current projects and initiatives as well as offer her thoughts on the best ways for students to engage with different stakeholder groups to affect meaningful change. Environmental policy might be her main focus, but she is just as passionate about engaging fellow teens to rise up and advocate for themselves and their future.  Whether you’re a student, teacher, or parent, our conversation with Hannah will give you hope for the future. Like I said to close out the episode, this is a generation of people who know how to get stuff done. We hope you enjoy!   
This week on Conceptually Speaking Julie and I spoke with designer of wonder, Caitlin Krause. As you can tell Caitlin doesn’t like labels or nouns to characterize her praxis. They are too static—too inert to capture the intentional fluidity of her work. Though her current specialty is virtual reality, her focus isn’t on hardware, it’s on humanity. There are few people who so consciously and warmly center the experience, wonder, and connective potential of technology quite like Caitlin can. The focus of our dialogue today wasn’t technology itself, but rather the relationships it fosters—with ourselves, with others, and with our environment. In truth, it’s her ability to live in those “in-between-spaces” that makes Caitlin such a compelling designer of learning and leadership. Whether you’re keen on mindfulness practices or a technology junkie, this is the episode for you Not many people discuss cognitive science, Joseph Campbell, and VR headsets in the same breath, but I can’t help but feel ed-tech would be in a better place if they did. Enjoy!
Today’s episode of Conceptually Speaking features educator, author, consultant, maker, and all around lover of learning, Dan Ryder. As you can tell by his bio, Dan is a bit of a polymath. He writes and presents about creativity, design thinking, maker spaces, comic books, and—as is the focus tonight—improv. It’s those generalist tendencies are what make him such a compelling guest and intuitive educator. Despite his far-flung interests, his concepts of focus for the episode—acceptance, communication, and trust, lie at the heart of all he does. That’s because, like us, Dan understands the value of anchoring learning with powerful concepts and frames. What I love about this episode, and speaking with Dan in general, is the energy and insight he brings to the table. Chats with him have the same exploratory and extemporaneous energy as an improv set. High tempo though it may be, there’s always a pleasant timbre that makes conversation feel easy. Dan has a way of talking to you like an old friend, whether you’ve known him for years or just met. It was the first thing I noticed about him when we met three years ago and it still holds true today. You’re in for a great episode. Enjoy!
Today’s guests are none other than our very own Nichelle Pinkney and Kayla Duncan. Since the mad dash to distance learning environments last summer, Julie and the team have been hard at work looking to design a suite of courses that would help us spread the word and build a community of practice around learning that transfers. We had a blast designing the Learning Transfer Endorsed Educator Course, and have received a lot of positive feedback during our first two cohorts. As our third cohort kicks off this week, we thought it’d be fun to look back and discuss the creation of the LTEE course and preview some of our upcoming offerings. During the episode, Kayla and Nichelle share their perspective on some of the courses anchoring concepts: community, sensemaking, and accessibility. Kayla has gotten rave reviews on the overall course design—especially the unit storyboard that is completed throughout the course. And as a veteran online instruction facilitator, Nichelle shares her insight into the importance of keeping our courses accessible for all users. Overall, we thought today’s episode would be a fun peek behind a curtain for a project that we’re really excited about continuing to expand and grow in the weeks and months to come. We hope you enjoy and consider joining an upcoming cohort!
Today’s guest is Dr. Michael Crawford--co-founder of Edspace, a social learning network for educators. As someone with expertise and insight into the evolving nature of education, professional development, and educational technology, he was the perfect guest for our current moment. Our conversation touches on a wide variety of topics, from wellness, to new models of professional learning, to the power of autonomy for teachers and students. What makes Michael such a great thinker and voice in education is his ability to recognize the connective tissue between various emerging research and trends within education. It’s at that point of convergence, the idea of Edspace emerged. There are a ton of great ideas and things to ponder about the future of professional learning, teacher training, and education in general during this episode. We hope you enjoy.    
In this week’s episode of Conceptually Speaking, Julie and I chatted With Joaquin Tomayo, a senior policy advisor at the Education Council, who looks to leverage the science of learning to create more equitable systems for students through research and policy. What I loved about this conversation was Jaoquin’s ability to take some of education's oldest truisms—like the importance of relationships, why our learning environment matters, and how education as a system is broken—and provide keen insight into the “why.” If we hope to create systems and policies that truly serve the best interest of their students, understanding these deeper causal mechanisms is a vital piece of repairing the education puzzle. Luckily, we have folks like Jaoquin who are working to synthesize systems thinking and scientific knowledge to advocate for policy that helps all students feel the sense of belonging they deserve. To show just how good this episode was, it clocked in at a whopping hour and ten minutes. It might take a few sittings to get through, but it’s worth the extra helpings, as it is chock full of insight.
This week on Conceptually Speaking we welcomed Rafel Angel, a language educator and founder of the Ampersand Consulting Group. To say that Rafael is passionate about world languages is a bit of an understatement. When we first shared the learning transfer mental model with him, he sent back a PDF exploring anchoring concepts in no less than eight different languages. Impressive as that is, what really made Rafael a compelling guest was the beauty and artistry with which he speaks about communication. For him, learning other languages is about much more than memorizing terms and conjugating verbs—it’s about finding the heart of other cultures, regions, and countries. It’s about sharing and connecting through stories, values, and communion. Rafael’s ability to capture the essence of communication and language is inspiring. Whether you’re a polyglot or a monolingual like myself, this episode is rich with wisdom about the power of language, meaning, and identity. We hope you enjoy! 
 Our guest this week is Ayo Magwood, founder of Uprooting Inequity—her platform dedicated to sharing resources, curriculum & instructional strategies for teaching about systemic racism & social justice through historical and civics education frameworks. From the moment this podcast begins, Ayo’s deep knowledge of racism, history, and pedagogy is spellbinding. In our overly specialized and atomized academic world, her ability to find an intersection between these three domains set her apart from a lot of other folks working in this field. Understanding problems as complex as systemic racism require nuance, thorough research, and the ability to synthesize countless threads of information. Teaching others about it requires patience, vulnerability, and an commitment. In our short time together, it’s clear Ayo possesses all these traits, as well as a being a great conversationalist, in droves. It’s a skillset and disposition our country needs right now, as more and more people are waking up to the corrosive effects racism has on our systems and structures and on the lives of Black Americans. Luckily, Ayo’s research and knowledge are perfectly suited to help educators and communities understand the roots of these issues, not just skim the surface. This episode was one of my favorites so far, as Ayo is as passionate and she is knowledgeable. She isn’t afraid to model vulnerability and she knows how to frame controversial issues in ways that lead to productive growth and discussion. Overall, her message is pertinent and clear—to truly end inequity, we must uproot it at its source. To do that, we must understand its history.
This week on Conceptually Speaking we chatted with concept-based certified consultant, PYP teacher, and author of Pop Up Studio, Misty Patterson. What I loved about this episode is Misty’s ability to cross boundaries and integrate different practices. Though loose parts may appear to be fun and frivolous to the uninitiated, this episode makes it clear just how complex, nuanced, and rewarding they can be when used with intention and discernment. They are springboards for inquiry, tools for meaning-making, and primers for analogical thinking. It’s a practice that becomes even more powerful when paired with curriculum anchored by concepts, which in their own way, are the loose parts of our world—elements to be observed, combined, and related to one another in ways that create the patterns that help us make sense of complexity. Our conversation with Misty was filled with practical tips, exemplars, and strategies that you can start using in your classroom tomorrow. I definitely recommend checking out her Instagram, as it provides a great visual portal through which you can see how her work comes alive in classrooms and PD. 
Our guest this week is the current principal of Washington DC’s Perry Street Prep, Rachel Crouch. As the school year looms large for teachers, it’s a time of uncertainty for students, their families, educators, and administrators alike. There’s a lot of discussion around concepts like culture and connection, but actually fostering them in school is much more challenging than defining them or placing them on a PowerPoint. In our conversation this week, Rachel shares how she was able to transform Perry Street Prep by using restorative practices, building a sense of community, and creating a culture where teachers feel supported and encouraged to hold one another accountable for their own, and each others growth. Rachel’s belief in honoring the humanity of her students and staff was an anchor in this episode and, it seems, her practice as well. Julie and I loved Rachel’s willingness to be candid about her journey to get to this point. Building a school culture is hard work and the openness and vulnerability is a lesson for all leaders. We hope you enjoy it!
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